Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Bigger Splash

After watching this film with the bf I was tempted to entitle this post "Significant people, huh!", a quote from Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece 'Brideshead Revisited'.  The narrator (the painter Charles Ryder) and Lady Julia Mottram are dining with a curious assortment of American grandees on a transatlantic liner. The dinner does not go well and the grandees are left with a poor impression of their English counterparts.  At one point one Senator Stuyvesant Oglander 'looked at his wife as if to say: 'Significant people, huh!''.  Which is really just a long winded way of saying the bf thought all the 'characters' in 'A Bigger Splash' were somewhat dull.  I couldn't help but be disappointed with his response, not only because the film is important to me as it reflects a little of that social sphere inhabited by David Hockney et al, wonderfully reflected in that fabulous book by Peter Schlesinger, 'A Checkered Past' that is a deep fascination for me, but because it was hard to refute his opinion. The bohemian lives depicted here seemed somewhat domestic and trivial, leaning perhaps a little too much to the boring. Perhaps it is the crippling self-consciousness that they all display before the camera's blank remorseless gaze that's to blame.  There is but one moment of transcendence when the artist, the charming, Patrick Proctor forgets the presence of the camera, but really that is it. We are given two all-too-brief scenes of a wider bohemian life: an Ossie Clarke fashion show (chaotic) where Hockney, in the front row with Peter Schlesinger and Celia Birtwell, appears to fall asleep , and 'The Alternative Miss World Competition' (more chaotic still).  Would there have been more of those scenes.  Fascinating too were the fashions and interiors.
Anyway I'm rather leaping ahead here.  'A Bigger Splash' dates from 1974 and is work of British cinematographer Jack Hazan.  His first full length film - a semi-fictionalized documentary with the 'stars' playing themselves.  It is named after a Hockney painting of 1967.  The result is visually beautiful, sometimes striking, but often confused in narrative structure. Since getting the dvd, way back in September, I've watched the film five or six times, being both attracted, as I've said, to the subject and slightly confused about the narrative.  There is a lot to sort out, to 'unpackage'.  The film ostensibly documents a three year period in Hockney's life in the early Seventies when he was living in London. The central event of the film is break-up of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger and the repercussions the break-up has for his art, particularly on the creation of the painting 'Portrait of an Artist'.  A painting, an earlier version of 'Portrait of an Artist' is destroyed in the process, which sounds quite dramatic, but without the overly melodramatic score by Patrick Gowers would be quite trivial an event.  It's not as though we actually see the canvas being destroyed, just the fragments (depicting Peter Schlesinger) lying on the darkened studio floor.  We see another canvas being destroyed earlier in the film.  They should not be confused. It isn't the same image.   For the trouble with this film is really simple: its narrative has been constructed after the event, in the cutting room, with the available material.  The continuity between shots can be laughable, and some of the seems were either too long and needed a swift editing, or were verging on the pointless.  However that is not to neglect or denigrate its importance in the depiction of gay guys like me living life that is normal as opposed to one that is problematic, or filled with sorrow beyond that of the ordinary.  A brave attempt then, and one I cannot totally dismiss.  Nor would I want to.

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